Russian Superfinals: Three leaders in the Open, Goryachkina beats Girya

by Antonio Pereira
8/21/2019 – The ninth round of the Russian Championships were played on Tuesday at the International Friendship Center in Izhevsk. The only winner of the day in the Open, Ernesto Inarkiev, joined Evgeny Tomashevsky and Nikita Vitiugov in the lead. In the Women's, Aleksandra Goryachkina took down runaway leader Olga Girya and now shares second place with Natalija Pogonina, Valentina Gunina and Alina Kashlinskaya, a point behind the top scorer. | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

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Nothing yet decided

After nine rounds, the open section of the 2019 Russian Superfinals can only be described as a close race. Barely 17 out of 54 games ended decisively and the three current co-leaders are atop the standings only on 'plus two', as no one has managed to clearly stand out in the tense struggle. In fact, five players are within a point of Evgeny Tomashevsky, Nikita Vitiugov and Ernesto Inarkiev, which makes it impossible to make any kind of prediction regarding the winner.

In round nine, the sole decisive result saw Inarkiev beating Alexey Sarana with the black pieces. Notably, Vitiugov could not make good use of a better position against Dmitry Jakovenko — with a win he would have climbed to sole first place.

Meanwhile, the fight for the title in the women's section suddenly gained in suspense, as runaway leader Olga Girya lost her first game of the competition, against Aleksandra Goryachkina. The latter is now a point behind her round nine opponent, thus joining Natalija Pogonina in shared second place. On a day with five out of six encounters finishing decisively, Valentina Gunina and Alina Kashlinskaya also joined the chasing pack on 6 out of 9.

Maxim Matlakov

All players go through the metal detector — here Maxim Matlakov | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

Open: Vitiugov and Inarkiev catch up

After six rounds, no less than six players (i.e. half the field) were sharing first place at the Russian Superfinals. In round seven, Evgeny Tomashevsky became the one that surged ahead by defeating a hapless Vladislav Artemiev with White. The following two days, however, the 2015 national champion was caught up by Nikita Vitiugov first and Ernesto Inarkiev later.

In the eighth round, Vitiugov was on the black side of a Classical Nimzo-Indian against tournament sensation Alexandr Predke. Vitiugov played an energetic theoretical line, which included a quick kingside expansion — Predke, confounded, started spending a lot of time in the middlegame, as he gave up a pawn for compensation. Black went on to capture another pawn, while he defended his uncastled king from his rival's threats. By move 34, however, Black's position was clearly for choice:

 

White's attack has run out of steam — Black's 34...g3 break is winning. Predke found nothing better than the queen trade with 35.xe6, and after 35...xe6 36.dd7 f6 White's doubled rooks on the seventh are disappointingly ineffective. Five moves later, Predke resigned.

Alexandr Predke, Nikita Vitiugov

Alexandr Predke versus Nikita Vitiugov | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

Also in round eight, Artemiev got to turn his luck around, as he mated Vladimir Fedoseev after having lost three consecutive games. Fedoseev was already in deep trouble, but he captured with the wrong piece while in time trouble, allowing his opponent to win on the dot:

 

32...♝xe5 was better than 32...xe5, as the latter allowed 33.xf6 exf6 34.b7+ f8 35.d6 and the mate threats on the seventh are unstoppable. The game finished with 35...xd6 36.f7#.

Vladislav Artemiev

Vladislav Artemiev bounced back after a bad run | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

Returning to the fight for the lead, let us recap Inarkiev's victory over Alexey Sarana of round nine. Sarana was the first one to deviate in a sharp variation of the Ragozin Defence, with 12.b5. The more experienced grandmaster reacted correctly though, and the players went into a four-rook endgame with six pawns per side rather quickly. Inarkiev got the initiative right away, after some imprecise play by his opponent:

 

21.ec1 (instead of 21.♖e4) allowed Black to get the upper hand with 21...d4 22.xc6 xb4 23.ca6 xb2 24.g3 d8 25.xa7 dd2

Ernesto Inarkiev

Ernesto Inarkiev before his round eight game | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

Standings after Round 9

 

All games

 

Women's: Girya stopped

Things could not have gone better for Olga Girya in round eight. The 28-year-old had arrived in the playing hall with an astounding 6 out of 7 score, but had Natalija Pogonina breathing down her neck at half-a-point distance. The leader gained a pawn and converted her material advantage into a 64-move win against Elena Tomilova, while Pogonina lost with Black against a resurgent Alexandra Kosteniuk (the former world champion had lost her previous two encounters). Girya was one and a half points ahead, and her strong performance all thoughout seemed to indicate she was en route to get a clean victory in the championship.

But her good fortune turned around in round nine. She had the black pieces against rating favourite and current World Championship challenger Aleksandra Goryachkina. Girya played the Caro-Kann and was happy to simplify the position whenever she had a chance. But not all materially-balanced positions are drawn. It was a case of good knight versus bad bishop in this crucial encounter:

 

White established her pawns on light squares, and quickly activated her knight — 26...f5 27.e3 fxg4 28.xg4.

Girya did not give up quickly, but Goryachkina showed exemplary technique to convert her advantageous position into a 46-move victory.

Aleksandra Goryachkina

Young Aleksandra Goryachkina is the rating favourite in Izhevsk | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

This means Goryachkina herself, the only undefeated player in the tournament, is in second place, a point behind Girya. But she is not the only one chasing the player that seemed to have everything under control after seven rounds — besides Pogonina, Valentina Gunina and Alina Kashlinskaya are also on 6 points after scoring wins in round nine.

Gunina's victory was rather unexpected, as she seemed to be completely busted with White against Kosteniuk:

 

Follow the game continuation in the diagram above

Black is a rook and a piece up, and White's attack is slowly but surely losing impetus. Here, Kosteniuk needed to give back some material by opting for 35...♚f6, avoiding White's check with the bishop from h5. The former world champion erred by choosing 35...d6 instead, and Gunina started a king chase that led to Black's resignation ten moves later: 36.h5+ f6 37.d4+ e7 38.xg7+ f7 39.f6+.

 

The rook is pinned, and after 39...d7 the knight is also pinned to the d1-rook. Thus 40.xf7 c6 41.xe6 xe6 42.e5 e8 43.c1+ b5 44.b1+ c5 45.b7.

 

And Black resigned.

Valentina Gunina

Valentina Gunina still has chances to win the event | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

Alina Kashlinskaya

Alina Kashlinskaya is also a point behind the leader | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

Standings after Round 9

 

All games

 

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Antonio is a freelance writer and a philologist. He is mainly interested in the links between chess and culture, primarily literature. In chess games, he skews towards endgames and positional play.
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